Christmas fisherman’s soup

Christmas is not complete without fisherman’s soup, whether you cook the Danube or Tisza style, both will enchant the family.

For us, Christmas without fisherman’s soup is truly unthinkable. On my maternal side, I have roots in Baja, so there it is always prepared with noodles and without straining the broth. Initially, my grandfather used to make it, but for some time now, my uncle has been the one cooking it.

Although these recipes differ in many aspects, there are common intersections, even between the Tisza and Danube styles. If you pay attention to a few things, no matter which version you make, the result will undoubtedly be delicious.

What do you cook it in? In good weather, only a cauldron will do, as there is no match for the hot soup prepared over an open fire. Some people attempt this in their gardens even in winter, but during cold weather, a gas stove and a large pot or a smaller cauldron are also good choices.

For fish cooking, a wide, flat-bottomed pot is usually recommended, narrowing upwards. Since its mouth is narrower, evaporation is more moderate, and the flat bottom is also more practical for cooking over the fire, as fish slices are less likely to break apart. This cauldron is more popular in Baja, while the Great Plain version widens upwards.

What fish should be used?

The classic recipe is made with carp, but it’s worth trying a mix, including catfish. In fact, the Tisza-style fisherman’s soup may even include perch. Always opt for fresh fish, preferably from a fish farm. For a family of four, you’ll need around 2 kilograms of carp. It’s advisable to thoroughly salt the fish 2-3 hours before cooking and let it sit.

If you’re preparing the Balaton or Tisza-style fisherman’s soup, you’ll need a fish broth. This can be made from bony parts of carp, such as the tail and head, or you can separate the meat from the ribs, including the spine. Many people also purchase small fish for the broth, like bream or carp.

The Onion Dilemma:

Just like with goulash, the richness and flavor of fisherman’s soup come from onions. You’ll need 1 onion per kilogram of fish. If possible, opt for Makó red onions. However, it’s essential to work with older, smaller onions from the previous year; these release their aroma more easily. However, it’s important not to overdo it with onions, as too many can result in a sweetish broth.

The Paprika Predicament:

The quality of paprika can make or break the entire dish. It’s crucial to buy vibrant red, preferably homemade paprika. It can be sweet or hot, depending on your taste. Using a mix of both is recommended, but the choice is yours regarding the ratio. Hungarian fisherman’s soup should also include cherry pepper, which doesn’t necessarily have to be cooked into the soup; it can be used for seasoning afterward. For example, my grandparents press cherry pepper into a cup of fisherman’s soup and then ladle it into each plate. 

The Process:

If you are preparing a fish broth, place the bony parts of the fish and the prepared small fish into the cauldron with finely chopped onions and enough water to cover them. Cook until the fish meat separates from the spine and bones. Then, strain the broth, remove the fish meat from the bones, and pass it through a sieve if making Balaton/Szeged-style fisherman’s soup. Once the fish broth is ready, return it to the cauldron along with the strained fish meat, and then add the fish slices.

Fisherman’s soup is not goulash! Paprika is not sprinkled over the onions; instead, it should be scattered into the water after the fish broth is prepared. It’s important to add the paprika to boiling water; otherwise, it can settle at the bottom of the cauldron/pot and burn. For the same reason, the cauldron is often rotated or shaken from time to time. Do not stir the broth with a spoon, as you may easily break the fish.

Once the fish has become tender, the soup is essentially ready to be served. It can be served according to taste or recipe, with bread or noodles.

Fishermans soup while being served


for 8 people

– 3 liters of water
– 4 fish heads, fish tails
– 2 onions
– Salt to taste
– 2 kilograms of carp
3 tablespoons of paprika
– 2 potatoes (optional)
– Optional cherry peppers

Preparation time: 1 hour


1. Clean and slice the fish, salt it (including the head and tail), and let it stand for one hour.

2. Fill a pot with 3 liters of water, add the fish tail and head, optionally the fins, finely chopped onions, and a diced potato. Cook a basic broth, and it’s ready when the fish meat easily separates from the bones.

3. Strain the broth, remove the fish meat from the bones as much as possible, and then pass the fish, onions, and potato through a sieve along with a little broth. You can use a specific strainer or pass it through a fine-mesh metal sieve.

4. Put the strained fish and broth back on the heat. When it boils, add 3 tablespoons of paprika. Once it boils again, add the fish slices – and if desired, sliced potatoes. Cook for 20 minutes until the fish is tender.

5. Take out a small amount of broth, press a cherry pepper into it for those who like it spicy.

6. Serve the hot soup with crispy homemade bread.

Fishermans soup in a plate


So Bors



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Smoked Szeged paprika
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